Fireboat Gets Eye-Popping Paint Job; Return to Pier 66a Pending

The John J. Harvey fireboat was given a twist on the “dazzle camouflage” paint scheme, which was popular on the high seas during World War I. | Photo by Milo Hess

BY COLIN MIXSON | A historic fireboat that assisted emergency workers during the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks has gotten a trippy new paint job inspired by an oddball camouflage scheme that was popular on the high seas during World War I.

The John J. Harvey’s razzle dazzle paint job — a Public Art Fund exhibition dubbed “Flow Separation” by its creator, artist Tauba Auerbach — combines the waterborne fire engine’s normal red-and-white color scheme with the flowing, geometric patterns that the British Royal Navy once used in an attempt to evade German submarines during the Great War.

British marine artist Norman Wilkinson designed the unique form of camouflage not to hide from German U-boats, but rather to confuse torpedo gunners with the profusion of disjointed shapes and colors. But the eccentric camouflage scheme wasn’t the game changer he hoped it would be — dazzle ships were sunk about as often as non-dazzle ships — and the striking paint jobs fell out of favor.

And while the John J. Harvey never had to dodge German torpedoes, the classic 1931 fireboat is chock full of history, serving New York’s Bravest with its powerful water pump until it was decommissioned in 1994.

The John J. Harvey is on the move this summer, with harbor tours originating from Brooklyn’s Bridge Park’s Pier 6, and Hudson River Park’s Pier 25. | Photo by Milo Hess

Save Our Ships New York, a nonprofit organization created by local preservationists, purchased the fireboat after it was pulled from service, docking it at Pier 66a in Chelsea, from where the John J. Harvey gives free tours of New York harbor.

But the fireboat was pulled back into service following a water main break during 9/11, with its captain quickly unloading passengers before cruising full steam ahead towards Ground Zero — where it served for 80 hours, until water service could be restored.

This summer, the colorful fireboat is on the move. Through Aug. 12, you can find it at Brooklyn Bridge Park, Pier 6. As of Aug. 13, the harbor tours originate from Hudson River Park’s Pier 25. The John J. Harvey remains there through Sept. 23 — and on Sept. 24, it docks once again at Pier 66a. The fireboat will retain its Great War-inspired paint job until mid-May 2019, after which its classic FDNY colors will be restored. To reserve tickets for the free harbor tours, visit Also visit

Artist Tauba Auerbach designed the paint job. | Photo by Milo Hess

British marine artist Norman Wilkinson’s disjointed shape and color scheme was meant to confuse torpedo gunners. But it wasn’t the game changer he hoped it would be — “dazzle” ships were sunk about as often as regular ones, and the striking paint job fell out of favor. | Photo by Milo Hess



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